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11:24 PM Thu, Sept. 20th

Prescott approves entertainment district

Unanimous approval sets new rules to give bars more flexibility

The City of Prescott has opened the door to more liquor-license flexibility in the downtown, and now it will be up to local businesses on whether to move on that change.

In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, Aug. 8, the Prescott City Council approved a new entertainment district designation that takes in much of the downtown.

The district, which covers about one-half-square-mile, runs roughly from Alarcon to Summit, and from Granite Creek Park to Aubrey.

Among the main changes under the district is a possible waiver of the current requirement for a 300-foot buffer between bars and schools and/or churches.

City Attorney Jon Paladini emphasized after the meeting, however, that the buffer is not automatically eliminated under the new district. He pointed out that the City Council has the authority to recommend the waiver on a case-by-case basis, and that the change would still require final approval by the state liquor board (Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control).

“Basically, (the new district) goes into effect today,” Paladini said, adding, “What that means is if somebody comes in with an application for retail liquor or a bar, the council would be able to approve an exemption to the 300-foot rule.”

For instance, the formation of the entertainment district sets the stage for Far from Folsom, located at 214 S. Montezuma St., to approach the city for a bar liquor license in place of its current restaurant license, which requires that at least 40 percent of revenues come from the sale of food.

The application would still have to go through the public process, involving posting and public hearing requirements, Paladini said, after which the council could approve the license with the exception to the 300-foot rule – “Because now they’re (Far from Folsom) in the entertainment district as is the school that they’re close to (Mile High Middle School).”

Indeed, the owners of Far from Folsom have been vocal advocates of the entertainment district, and restaurant representative Dan Lohmeier was on hand at this week’s meeting to voice his support.

Lohmeier noted that he and his wife had moved to Prescott about a year ago from Austin, Texas – a community that has successfully promoted the entertainment-district concept.

“We really enjoyed watching the transformation in Austin -- watching places like Rainey Street grow into a crown jewel of the community,” Lohmeier said. “Now we want to see that transformation start to happen and really grow this into the crown jewel of Arizona.”

When the latest version of the entertainment district was presented at the council’s study session on July 25, members asked to have the boundary expanded to the north to include the creek/greenways area – a change that was made and was included in the district approved this week.

While the liquor-license rule is among the major changes, city officials have emphasized other objectives as well.

“It’s important to note that the whole idea is not just to create bars and liquor licenses,” Paladini said during the July 25 discussion. “The whole intent of the statute is to expand arts, entertainment and cultural venues.”

After the meeting, City Manager Michael Lamar added that the district gives downtown Prescott an advantage in tourism promotion. “I think it gives us the ability to say we’re a downtown arts and entertainment district, with state recognition,” he said.

And in response to Lohmeier’s comparison to Austin, Lamar said he hopes to see similar things happening in Prescott. “There are a lot of things going on in Austin in adaptive reuse and a thriving live-music and arts scene,” he said.

While state statute allows just one entertainment district per community, city officials have emphasized that the new district has room to grow.

“Simply because we elect to go this way doesn’t preclude us from changing it in the future, or expanding it,” Mayor Pro Tem Jim Lamerson said. “We’re not anywhere near (the state’s one-square-mile) limit.”